African-American Firsts: Women
Explore Biography.com's collection of pioneering African-American women with indelible legacies, including Charlotte E. Ray, Maya Angelou, Maritza Correia, Gwendolyn Brooks, Mary Mahoney, Oprah Winfrey, Octavia E. Butler and Shirley Chisholm. View full biographies, photos, videos and more, only at Biography.com.
Film Actress, Entrepreneur, Producer, Philanthropist, Talk Show Host, Television Producer / 1954 -
In 1986, Oprah Winfrey became the first black female host of a nationally syndicated daily talk show with the premiere of The Oprah Winfrey Show. In 2002, Winfrey was named the first recipient of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' Bob Hope Humanitarian Award. The following year, she became the first black female billionaire in the United States.
Civil Rights Activist, Author, Poet / 1928 -
Literary icon Maya Angelou worked as the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco, California, in the 1940s. Angelou's autobiographical book I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969, is the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman. The famed writer later became the first African-American woman to have her screenplay produced, for the 1972 film Georgia, Georgia; Angelou also composed the score for the film.
In 1993, Angelou recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at President Bill Clinton's inaugural ceremony—marking the first inaugural recitation since Robert Frost delivered his poem "The Gift Outright" at President John F. Kennedy's inauguration in 1961. In 1995, Angelou was lauded for remaining on The New York Times' paperback nonfiction best-seller list for two years—the longest-running record in the chart’s history.
Mae C. Jemison
Astronaut, Doctor, Scientist / 1956 -
On June 4, 1987, Mae C. Jemison became the first African-American woman to be admitted into the astronaut training program. After more than a year of training, Jemison became the first African-American female astronaut, and in 1992 she became the first African-American woman in space, traveling aboard the Endeavour.
Entrepreneur, Model, Talk Show Host / 1973 -
Famed model and television personality Tyra Banks became the first African-American woman to be featured on the cover of GQ magazine in 1996. The following year, she became the first black woman to be featured on the covers of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue and the Victoria's Secret lingerie catalogue.
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